Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. And what he did was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and he put him to death also.
This is not my usual Sunday post, but I think it is certainly worth discussing. My post on Friday (Possible TMI…) mentioned that I had spent Thursday night drinking wine, watching porn, and masturbating. Some people might think that is contrary to my character as a Christian. As one anonymous commenter wrote:
Joe, As Christian, how do you reconcile masturbation and faith? As Catholic, I get incredibly guilty for wanking. Would like to know what you think and your experience.
Our bodies are a wonderful thing, and God created it as such to help us in many ways. As a Christian, though not Catholic, I do not believe that masturbation is a sin, though it can turn sinful. I didn’t feel that I could fully discuss this issue in a reply to a comment, so I promised to devote my Sunday post to the issue at hand (pun not intended).
So what does the Bible say? Many people would point to the story of Onan from Genesis, quoted above. Onan’s name is often used synonymously with masturbation, i.e. onanism. In the scripture, Onan was supposed to dutifully sleep with his late brother’s wife to produce an offspring for his brother. However, Onan decided that he did not want to produce an offspring that would not be his, so he ejaculated on the ground. There is great debate surrounding this scripture as an argument against masturbation, because Onan did not actually masturbate. He did actually have sex with his brother’s wife. The act he committed is actually called “coitus interruptus.” Yet, Christians who use this scripture refer to the self-pollution of Onan as an argument against the act of masturbation. Many Christian pastors have tried in vain to find mention of masturbation in Scripture so they can condemn and forbid it. Unable to find any verses on the matter, some have foolishly used the story of Onan in Genesis 38:6-10 as their proof text. To argue against masturbation with Genesis 38:6-10 is as ludicrous as arguing for masturbation with Ecclesiastes 9:10, which says, Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
Despite the widespread approval and practice of masturbation, people persist in feeling varying degrees of guilt about it. A 1994 University of Chicago survey used as the basis for the book Sex in America cites that about half of all men and women who masturbate feel at least a little guilty at least some of the time. The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior released in 1993 cited that just 13 percent of Protestants think masturbation is a natural part of adult life.
Masturbation is not sinful behavior in of itself nor is it a transgression. God has created us as emotional, spiritual, intellectual and sexual beings. He has created these capacities in the context of both relational purpose and self-sufficiency. Meaning we are social creatures – meant to thrive in relationship with others. At the same time, we are also individual creatures – and when not able to be in relationship have capacity to meet our own needs for certain periods of time depending on age and developmental stage.
We know we are born and die sexual beings. The capacity for marital sexuality only occurs through a set period of adult life – if it happens at all. Therefore, isn’t it wonderful that God would create a self-regulatory system where we can count on ourselves to experience the benefits of sexual release when it is not appropriate for us to be in sexual relationship with another person? Isn’t it wonderful that we would have a natural drive to self-explore – getting to know ourselves – as we prepare to share a sexual life with another person? If approached within this context, masturbation can be used to help our teens and single adults keep the law of chastity in ways that empower themselves regarding knowing and controlling their sexual drives/cycles and owning their sexuality in non-shaming and normative ways. For single adults who are not married, masturbation provides this release and its healthy ramifications. It can help with loneliness when single.
There are health benefits associated with masturbation:
1. It prevents cancer. A 2003 Australian study found that men who ejaculated more than five times a week were a third less likely to develop prostate cancer. Disease-causing toxins build up in your urogenital tract and when you masturbate, you flush these toxins out of your system, says Brame.
2. It makes your erections stronger. As you age, you naturally lose muscle tone … even down there. Regular sex or masturbation works out your pelvic floor muscles to prevent erectile dysfunction and incontinence.
3. It increases your immunity. Ejaculation increases levels of the hormone cortisol, according to Jennifer Landa, M.D., a specialist in hormone therapy. Cortisol, which usually gets a bad rap as a havoc-wrecking stress hormone, actually helps regulate and maintain your immunity in the small doses. “Masturbation can product the right environment for a strengthened immune system,” she says.
4. It boosts your mood. Masturbating releases a slew of feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin that lift your spirits, boost your satisfaction, and activate the reward circuits in your brain.
I understand that like any normal human tendency, masturbation can become an unhealthy behavior. This is also true for eating – yet we don’t couch our physical desire to nourish ourselves with food as sinful. I believe it is unhealthy for masturbation to be done in a way which interferes with your daily functioning or quality of relationships.
As a single man, I, like most other men, have urges and sexual needs/wants. I believe that God works in mysterious ways, thus allowing us sexual release as a solo activity. So let me look,at this issue from a more theological perspective. I will turn to Rachel Held Evan’s blog and her guest blogger, Richard Beck, whom she had write about the subject. Richard Beck is Professor and Department Chair of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. (Abilene Christian University is a private university located in Abilene, Texas, affiliated with Churches of Christ. Most Church of Christ schools require their faculty to be active members of the Church of Christ.) He is the author of Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality and The Authenticity of Faith: The Varieties and Illusions of Religious Experience. Richard is married to Jana and they have two sons, Brenden and Aidan. He blogs at Experimental Theology.
First, I’d like to bring up the issue of Internet pornography and its relationship to masturbation. With the rise of Internet porn, the consumption of pornography has reached unprecedented levels. And it’s difficult, to say the least, to reconcile that consumption and the support it gives to the adult entertainment industry with the Christian commitments of justice and love. To be sure, many will battle with pornography all their lives, like an alcoholic fights daily for sobriety. There must be grace for our failures, but this is a battle that must be fought.
And beyond issues related to justice, psychologists are only just beginning to grasp the full impact of pornography upon our brains and how those effects are creating sexual and relational dysfunction. For an introduction to the issues psychologists are beginning to examine see Gary Wilson’s widely-viewed TED Talk.
That issue duly noted, let me get to my main points:
I think it is important to recognize how masturbation functions in the life of those who are single. And even for those who eventually get married, we need to note how marriage has become increasingly delayed in Western cultures. A 2011 Pew Report found that the median age of (first) marriages was 29 for men and 27 for women. In the 1960s the median averages for both genders was in the early 20s, and in ancient cultures we married as teenagers. Given this delay, how are we to manage our sex drive from the onset of puberty to wedding night? To say nothing of the sexual challenges involved in lifelong singleness.
All that to say, masturbation may be a vital aspect in how single persons cultivate and achieve sexual chastity. That is, masturbation may be a critical part in how a single person achieves emotional and sexual well-being if they hold to an ideal that sexual relations should only take place within a covenanted, life-long, monogamous relationship.
In short, I don’t think the physical act of masturbation should be moralized. The real issue in this conversation, the big elephant in the room, is Jesus’ prohibition against lust (cf. Matt. 5.27-28). Masturbation per se might not be a sin but what about the attendant lust? Can you masturbate to the point of orgasm without lust being a part of that experience?
And yet, I think this observation shifts the topic away from masturbation toward a theology of lust. What does it mean to lust? Should transitory erotic feelings be considered lust? Or is lust something more obsessive, persistent, greedy, covetous, acquisitive, and possessive in nature?
Because if transient erotic feelings are not lust then let me make a somewhat counterintuitive point: masturbation might be a great tool to combat lust.
Sexual arousal can be come psychically consuming, and debilitating, if not given a quick physiological outlet. We’ve all experienced this. When sexually aroused, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else. Our mind is fixated on the object of arousal. And trying to repress these feelings often exacerbates them. How, then, to get past these feelings and impulses? Physiological release can help here. Masturbate, clear your head, and move on with your day. When masturbation is treated in this almost perfunctory manner, as a physiological catharsis, it can be a very healthy means of quickly ridding yourself of unwanted sexual feelings and distractions.
To be sure, if masturbation isn’t being used in this perfunctory manner and is being accompanied by regular and possessive fantasies toward someone who isn’t, say, your spouse, then more might need to be said, (along with what I said above about pornography). But again, the issue then is less with masturbation than lust and how that lust might be symptomatic of relational issues that need attention.
Remember, we need to master our behavior, or else sin will master it for us. Even a good thing can become sinful without the right heart. Even if we don’t believe that masturbation is a sin, if it is controlling us then it is a sin.
1 Corinthians 6:12 –”All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will nor be dominated by anything.
Even though there are scriptures used as an argument against masturbation, they do not necessarily make masturbation as a sin very clear. Yet, it is important that a person look at the reasons for masturbation to see if the desire behind the act is actually a sin. Some Christians believe that, because masturbation does not hurt others, it is not a sin. However, other Christians ask a person to look deeper within to see if masturbation is building a relationship with God or taking away from it.
I see masturbation as a release. Yes, lust is involved, which is where the porn comes into play. Do I believe this separates me from God? No, I don’t believe it does. I do not sleep around with every man I meet, not that I meet that many. I also don’t have anyone to whom might be a potential partner. Therefore, I masturbate. It curves my lust, makes me a little less lonely, and it boosts my mood so that I remain a more positive individual. I do not find masturbation to be a sin; otherwise, there will be no men in heaven and relatively few if any women. I’m sure there are some people who’ve never masturbated, but they are few and far between.
-Christians & Masturbation: Seven Perspectives – Rachel Held Evans (rachelheldevans.com/blog/christians-masturbation)
-Masturbation And The Bible by Lambert Dolphin (http://www.ldolphin.org/Mast.shtml)
-Bible Verses About Masturbation (http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Bible-Verses-About-Masturbation)
-My Official Stance on Masturbation by Natasha Helfer (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/mormontherapist/2012/08/my-official-stance-on-masturbation.html)